G is for Graffiti

My A to Z of Portugal

“Graffiti is an impulse to get recognized” Mint & Serf

This is going to be a different post! Despite my best efforts to think of something else for G (without resorting to golf!) the idea of covering graffiti kept coming back to me – so G is for Graffiti in My Personal A to Z of Portugal

It has to be said that wherever you go – you can find graffiti. And it does seem particularly bad in some parts of the Algarve.

So I thought I’d try and find out a bit more and share it with you. According to Wiki the word Graffiti is a ‘mass noun’ used in the plural and the singular is actually ‘graffito’  and is described as the ‘writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place’ The word originates from the Greek γράφειν — graphein— meaning “to write.”

graffiti wall Faro

Wiki then stretches it a bit for me saying that it has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Mmm not sure they would have called it graffiti then! 

(I am also reminded instantly of the wonderful sketch in the Life of Brian where Brian is caught daubing abuse in Latin and told off for not conjugating his verbs properly and told to write it out a hundred times – priceless!)

But nowadays it is rightly seen as vandalism; and can be dealt with as such. I am not going to grace the pages of this blog with any clear examples of ‘tags’ or ‘tagging’ – the annoying and pointless expression of a name or nickname which can unfortunately be seen repeated on so many buildings – and not even derelict ones. Only last week we had some ‘pink’ tags added to nearby houses – it is difficult to remove – and difficult to police, and can provide upset and annoyance to home-owners.

But as an artist, I am intrigued by the social and political messages that can be portrayed through graffiti – Banksy is of course the most famous exponent of this form of expression.

Silves graffiti no3

There are also some examples of fine art work and design which can be seen amidst the tags – like the image above from Lagos – and also some strongly political messages and emblems which are often repeated – and added to – in an area.

graffiti wall SIlves

I have no idea what the significance of these pills and bottles mean to the person who sprayed it – but it is intriguing none the less:

graffiti pills and bottles

The graffiti artist will always be found with a can of spray paint – having tried to create art with a spray can I am amazed at the intricacy of some of the work you can see displayed. You can also see images which are made by using stencils which are simply sprayed over – a popular method to create a detailed design very quickly – and which can be repeated over and over again.

graffiti figure stencil

There is an interesting dilemma for councils to contend with – on the one hand condemning the tags and graffiti which are sprayed around the streets, buildings and even public transport – and yet also often wanting to support and encourage legitimate ‘street art’. You can find out more about ‘legal’ sites via this website Legal Walls  – Our nearest site is the Skate Park in Portimão – the Parque de Jogos – which allows legitimate graffiti – I think I might go and check it out and see if there is any decent work!

In 2011 the Guardian newspaper (link to article) reported on the rise of graffiti as ‘urban art’ to be seen in Portugal. In Lisbon this has even been taken a step further with the Crono Project  which actually commissioned artists to use graffiti to transform neglected buildings:

Lisbon street art on building

Photograph: Alexander Silva click for link

The crocodile on the left is by Ericailcane, an Italian artist.

There is even a Galeria de Arte Urbana  which was set up by the council to give street artists a legal place to operate:

Lisbon galeria de street arte

Photograph: Rachel Dixon/Guardian click for link

But this is not confined to Lisbon – I am impressed by this graffiti closer to home, situated near Vilamoura, with an amazing amount of detailed work and design on an old wall:

graffiti wall

There are also examples in Faro which are interesting – there is a brightly decorated derelict house full of eye-catching design:

graffiti building Faro

And as an aside I am also fascinated by the intricately painted hangings which are used to cover up a building which is being renovated near the Cathedral:

wall covering Faro

In Portimão you can find this perplexing image – is it graffiti – or a painting done by the Council to brighten up a wall?

Portimão graffiti wall

And also in Portimão there is an example of the use of art to disguise – in this case the addition of extra windows on an empty building on the first floor – very clever stuff!

Portugal 365 image 17/02/12

And this is my favourite art creating a realistic ‘window’ on a building – it’s obviously old now – but the detail is still there for you to enjoy:

graffiti window

But try as I might, I can find very little in the press which is actually challenging or targeting the tagging and vandalism style graffiti which is around us. In 2010 the Algarve Resident (link) reported that the then Social Democratic (PSD) Algarve MP Mendes Bota had criticised the Ministry of Internal Affairs for its lack of action to stop graffiti vandalism from spreading in the country.

Mendes Bota said: “I travel the country from north to south and I do not like what I see: a country dirtied by graffiti,” he stressed.

The politician has asked the Ministry why the laws available to fight this sort of crime are not being enforced and why more isn’t done by the authorities to prevent graffiti vandalism.

I am uncertain whether this is just not seen as a priority, or that the resources and/or willingness is not in place to tackle this problem – but I have to be honest and say that in some areas it is particularly noticeable – and where public monuments and statues are defaced (for example in the gardens in Silves) and nothing is done to remove it – or tackle it – then it cannot reflect well on our tourism and ‘public’ face of the Algarve region.

Perhaps we need to do more to encourage projects like the Graffiti Olhão project (link) which encouraged legal urban art to be produced – with the aim of encouraging public and particularly youth participation in ‘official’ areas and walls whilst also discouraging illegal vandalism.

Graffiti Olhão

Graffiti Olhão (click for link)

So – is it art? Is it ‘urban art’? Can we ‘legitimise’ some forms of graffiti as ‘art’ whilst also targeting and policing the ‘vandalism’ that we can also see around us? And who decides which work is art and which is not?

Silves graffiti no4

Certainly Dave has found some of the designs on a derelict wall in Lagos particularly inspiring as subjects to photograph.

Silves graffiti no1

What do you think? Do you see the design and art hidden amongst some of the graffiti you see around you – or is it all mindless criminal activity that should be addressed?

I leave you with an interesting quote from Banksy – who is surely the leading ‘face’ of graffiti:

“Painting something that defies the law of the land is good. Painting something that defies the law of the land and the law of gravity at the same time is ideal.” Banksy, ‘Wall and Piece’

Silves graffiti no2


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19 Responses to G is for Graffiti

  1. Pingback: G is for Graffiti – Algarve Blog | My Personal A to Z Challenge

  2. restlessjo says:

    Good one Alyson- this should pull in a few comments! I think that there should be more designated sites. If you drive through Olhao main street, it’s only the graffiti that’s worth looking at. I can’t see much wrong with brightening up drab sites that the council can’t afford to do anything with and as Dave has demonstrated, some of the work is outstanding. For me the underside of bridges and flyovers are fair targets. Obviously skateparks are ideal. Graffiti can raise a smile and brighten your day, but it’s a world away from the mindless dawbing on pavements or private walls.

  3. I’m saddened when I see beautiful buildings and people’s homes defaced by scrawls of spray paint and agree that more should be done to eradicate it. Leaving it creates an environment which says that no one cares and consequently invites bad behaviour. The difference between vandalism and street art is the difference between scribbling all over someone else’s sketch pad and using your own surfaces / collaborating with others to create something meaningful and beautiful.

    Great post, Alyson 🙂

  4. Michelle says:

    Really interesting post!! Thought provoking as well. Some graffiti is vandalism and some is art. Is it only art when thought is put into it to make it aesthetically pleasing and/or interesting? Some tags are really interesting pieces, but in completely the wrong place–is it still art if it is defacing the wrong surface? Really interesting things to think about. And I love how you explored all kinds of urban art/graffiti.

    • ferragudofan says:

      thanks Michelle – it was an interesting piece to write
      I’m not sure what the answers are – it certainly has lots of angles as you have described so well
      it would be interesting to ask a ‘tagger’ if they considered their tag to be ‘art’ or not?

  5. aFrankAngle says:

    First-time visitor via Debra at BreatheLighter. Love the graffiti images. Many thanks for sharing!

  6. Mike says:

    Thanks for sharing. This Graffiti is beautiful and not offensive like that we have in New York of people spraying their name on a wall

  7. Stef says:

    We have just returned from a holiday in Portugal. Whilst there we hired a car and visited many places. One was the town of Silves. We went to see the castle and ended up wandering through the streets. I was surprised to see “grafitti” or “urban art” in abundance. I do not know much about it but i could not help but be fascinated by some of it. I like old buildings and historical places but something about this made me want to learn.more. We passed through a lot of run down places, at least this was something to look at, but not just pictures, interpreting the messages behind the art.

    • ferragudofan says:

      I’m glad you found Silves on your travels – it’s one of our favourite places! you are right that many places in Portugal have graffiti – much of it unfortunately is quite an eyesore, but I am glad that you found some which fascinated you too. Often there is a political or social message behind much of the art for us to ponder. Thanks for visiting the blog and taking the time to comment

  8. Pingback: CBBH Photo Challenge: Blue | Algarve Blog

  9. oasien says:

    Merci de m’avoir fait visiter votre blog. Je vous invite à mon tour de visiter le mien.

  10. Caleb says:

    Art is no more then a word used to explain a persons technuiqe of expressing themself, if a graffit artist tags a wall it is no diffrent to any other ‘artist’ in the world, they are simply just expressing themself just using diffrent methods.. Weather its a bus or a train they paint on, if it looks good and people are intriged by this then why remove it? People all over the world love banksy’s art but he is no diffrent to any other graffit artist, at the end of the day he is defaceing public property why do we glorify banksy’s and complain about others? Anyway loved this post only stumbled across it as I was looking for a legal place to paint in albafura because I am too a graffiti artist but I’m glad I found this! Son – Fmh crew, Liverpool Uk

    • thanks for taking the time to comment! it is an interesting debate that we do indeed promote and applaud bansky … but not taggers … perhaps the level of artistic talent should also be considered though? some of bansky’s work is incredibly clever and thought-provoking – and often challenges politics and society … could you say the same about a tag though?!

      • Caleb says:

        I can fully agree that banksy does send out very clever and eye opening messeges, The artistic talent on the other hand is a diffrent story.. Banksy uses stencils wich is frowned upon in the graffiti world we would see this as ‘cheating’ I’m fully aware of people who send out simular if not the exact same messeges as banksy with just the use of a spraycan and nothing else, but is it noticed? No, this is because people will not stop and look for long enough to see them because they see graffit is an eyesore, where as banksy’s art is very bold and clear of what messege he is trying to send,

        • he has also taken on a celebrity status too – which also helps promote his work – I’m interested in the stencils as for me the ‘art’ comes in the studio – when the stencil is designed … and the concept is formed … if you have chance to go to Olhao and Lagos there is some great graffiti there, and we have yet to make it to Lisbon … which is pretty famous for its graffiti http://www.lisbontrail.com/exploration-guide-real-lisbon/

          • Caleb says:

            I agree the art is formed in the studio I’m not doubting this, I’m just saying he is considered a graffiti artist when he simply is not. He is a STENCIL artist.. This is why graffit artist get wound up about this ‘banksy charcter’ and he also had created a celebrity status I understand this, but my point was he has created this through illegal activity,Example, if I painted a wall and got caught.. And banksly also painted a wall and got caught, I gurentee my police charges would be worse then his just because he’s considered a ‘celebrity’ my whole point about banksy was, its not fair on us haha!!!

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